Keyboards page

Archived development update discussion from past versions
Archived development updates.
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Nicholas
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Post by Nicholas »

KEYBOARDS PAGE: synthesiagame.com/keyboards

The Keyboards page just got a lot better. It has been due for an update ever since Synthesia for iPad was released. Now it features an interactive wizard-type-thing to help users discover exactly what they need. With any luck, this will cut down on a few of the most-frequently asked questions in the forum.

There is one special feature I'd like to highlight that isn't immediately obvious. You can manipulate the URL to make the guide even better. By default it asks about your host (PC/Mac/iPad) first and then keyboard connections (MIDI/USB) second. As you click through the options you end up with things like:

/keyboards/help
/keyboards/help/desktop
/keyboards/help/desktop/midi

But, lets say someone came to the forum with a problem. They only mention their keyboard model but they left out which type of thing they're playing Synthesia on. You can replace that first bit after /keyboards/help/ with "unknown" but leave the keyboard connection part in place. Let's say the keyboard has MIDI ports, so someone in the forums might provide the following link to help them out:

/keyboards/help/unknown/midi

Now they just have to answer one question, the site remembers the answer to the second one, and it goes straight to the solution. That's pretty cool.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun drawing the various wires, adapters, and ports. All of that should look really nice on devices with Retina support, too. Let me know what you guys think or if I left anything out. It's a delicate balance between providing lots of useful information while not overwhelming new users.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

That should be a big help to those getting started.

A minor nit, "Help me pick the best keyboard for me" seems to oversell the amount of help provided. I think "Suggested keyboards to use with Synthesia" would be closer to the mark.

I disagree with the dis of Casio keyboards. Yamaha makes some crap too. I think there are too many offerings from Casio and Yamaha and they change too often to make any blanket statements that won't mislead someone about something.

I think there should be a suggestion to consider a used keyboard. There are a lot of keyboards gathering dust and there are some good values to be found, especially on the low end.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

jimhenry wrote:... seems to oversell the amount of help provided.
I agree. I had scaled my plans back a bit during the development process. Originally that page was going to be a tool where you could set a budget, pick the features that were most important to you, and get a set of tailor-made recommendations at the end. Eventually I realized that would take more upkeep (each year when new models are replaced) than I wanted to engage in.

Instead, most of the page is simple informational bits to demystify a lot of the terms you might hear when you start searching for these things. The top section was supposed to be a "Quick Answers" or "TL;DR" type of a section, but it eats enough space to look like it's the main point of the page. I've gone back and forth about removing the 3rd recommendation there. Although that leaves a big price gap between #2 and #4, which some (impatient) new users might be interested in knowing about. Hmm.
jimhenry wrote:Yamaha makes some crap too.
I haven't seen any. Do you know of any models I should take a look at?

For the same $150, Casio's LK-100 pales in comparison to Yamaha's EZ-200. Worse speakers, (much!) worse instruments, will only play input from MIDI channels 1 through 4 (vs. all 16), only 4 simultaneous key lights (vs. 10), cheaper/weaker build quality (two seemingly random keys require significantly more pressure to trigger than the others).

Both of those were the lowest-level models from either manufacturer a couple years ago that still had MIDI or USB, and both were sold at the same price point. You can feel the Casio was made for about half the cost.

I don't have any experience with their higher-end Privia line (and I've heard good things about it) so I was sure to mention the low-end specifically... but everything I've seen and touched at Casio's low-end has been the kind of experience that would cause me to steer friends and family away from them.
jimhenry wrote:I think there should be a suggestion to consider a used keyboard.
This is something I keep forgetting about. Thanks for the reminder. I'll include that someplace, too.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:Yamaha makes some crap too.
I haven't seen any. Do you know of any models I should take a look at?
You feel a need to deliberately seek out crap? :o I don't think the Yamaha PSR line will do much for most aspiring pianists. It's OK for organists because organs are not touch responsive.

I haven't looked at low-end Casios in awhile but I rather like my WK-3500 which is probably considered mid-range. However, I paid $100 for it used including a sustain pedal, power supply, and keyboard stand. So I guess mostly it is a poster child for buying used keyboards.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

jimhenry wrote:You feel a need to deliberately seek out crap? :o
Yeah, if there is a counterexample I want to know about it. Until you said something, my confidence in them was actually really high. I just ordered the lowest-model PSR they make so I can inspect it myself. (Well, YPT at least. I still don't understand why they sell the exact same keyboard -- outside of face-plate color -- under two different model names. A widespread theory has something to do with different markets in different countries or something.) Anyway, we'll see how an $85 (new!) keyboard performs.
jimhenry wrote:... but I rather like my WK-3500 which is probably considered mid-range.
Yeah, that's in their WorKstation line. Looks like a nice keyboard, actually.

I was surprised -- I guess it's been more years than I realized since I've looked -- that basically Yamaha's entire range has USB or MIDI now. I thought there was still some lower caste that didn't have any connectivity, but I haven't been able to find one without. I wonder if that's as pervasive across the other manufacturers' lines.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

I hope the PSR/YPT proves usable. It would nice to say that there is an under US$100 keyboard that can be used by someone just starting out. Keyboards are relatively more expensive in some countries so an under US$100 keyboard can still be a pretty sizable purchase for some people.

I think all the keyboards you recommend provide a USB connection. If that is correct you should mention it. Using a USB cable rather than a MIDI-USB interface lowers the total cost by a meaningful amount. I think they all have velocity sensitive keys which is another point worth mentioning as it isn't always easy to confirm that. It would also be worth mentioning whether or not a power supply is included. Not including a power supply is a sneaky way of lowering the apparent price.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

jimhenry wrote:I think all the keyboards you recommend provide a USB connection. If that is correct you should mention it.
The link just underneath the list takes them to a pre-configured-for-USB connection wizard. I used "designed to be connected easily" instead of "all have USB" because the very first question you're asked after the click-through has "USB" as one of the choices. I just left it at "easily" to cut down on confusion.
jimhenry wrote:I think they all have velocity sensitive keys which is another point worth mentioning as it isn't always easy to confirm that.
When I define "touch-sensitive keys" near the bottom of the page, I state that they're basically ubiquitous now. Is that not true? Does anyone still make a keyboard without velocity sensitivity? (It might be worth mentioning it just for the used market, I suppose.)
jimhenry wrote:It would also be worth mentioning whether or not a power supply is included. Not including a power supply is a sneaky way of lowering the apparent price.
Each of the links is to a bundle of some sort that includes a stand and power supply.

I was trying to be as terse as I could in the descriptions as it was already intended to be a "quick answers here, read on if you're interested in learning more" section. With verbiage like "everything you need" in the first (smallest/cheapest) entry, I was hoping it would be implied for each of the step-up entries.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:I think all the keyboards you recommend provide a USB connection. If that is correct you should mention it.
The link just underneath the list takes them to a pre-configured-for-USB connection wizard. I used "designed to be connected easily" instead of "all have USB" because the very first question you're asked after the click-through has "USB" as one of the choices. I just left it at "easily" to cut down on confusion.
How about "All of these are made to connect to a computer or iPad easily with a USB cable. This guide will help you get connected." My concern is that someone just getting started will have read something that makes them think they always need a MIDI-USB interface. They probably won't go to the getting connected stuff if they are still shopping for a keyboard.

It might also be worth mentioning that there are alternatives to the iUX1 that Yamaha sometimes describes as needed to connect to an iPad:
http://www.amazon.com/Yamaha-YPT240-Por ... B00DJ66G3W
http://www.amazon.com/Yamaha-i-UX1-USB- ... B00BCAXN2E
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:I think they all have velocity sensitive keys which is another point worth mentioning as it isn't always easy to confirm that.
When I define "touch-sensitive keys" near the bottom of the page, I state that they're basically ubiquitous now. Is that not true? Does anyone still make a keyboard without velocity sensitivity? (It might be worth mentioning it just for the used market, I suppose.)
Yamaha says the PSR-E243 does not have touch response:
http://usa.yamaha.com/products/musical- ... uct_lineup

Since you are a Yamaha shill ;) you should mention that Yamaha describes touch-sensitive keys as having "touch response". I wasn't immediately sure that was what it meant.
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:It would also be worth mentioning whether or not a power supply is included. Not including a power supply is a sneaky way of lowering the apparent price.
Each of the links is to a bundle of some sort that includes a stand and power supply.

I was trying to be as terse as I could in the descriptions as it was already intended to be a "quick answers here, read on if you're interested in learning more" section. With verbiage like "everything you need" in the first (smallest/cheapest) entry, I was hoping it would be implied for each of the step-up entries.
Someone will take your recommendation and look somewhere else (e.g. non-US user) and search for just the keyboard not realizing the power supply is not included with the keyboard.

A 1 star Amazon review:
Way to disappoint!
By 1travelbug on December 25, 2013
Christmas morning. Opening box. No AC Power Adaptor! Manual states "May not be included depending in your particular locale. Check with your Yamaha dealer." Great! Off to buy batteries. You should see the disappointed look!
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

KEYBOARDS PAGE: synthesiagame.com/keyboards

Changes from the first round of feedback:
  • Changed big green button wording
  • Dropped the Yamaha propaganda
  • Added an even lower-end recommendation
  • De-emphasized the recommended keyboard list (it's quite a bit smaller even after squeezing a 5th entry in)
  • Added shopping tips (power/stand, buy used)
  • Re-worded touch-sensitivity section
jimhenry wrote:Yamaha says the PSR-E243 does not have touch response
Ha! That will show me! :lol: I have learned a lot about keyboard lineups over the last few days.

I'll be able to confirm the lack of sensitivity in a day or two, at any rate.
serkol
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Post by serkol »

I would NOT recommend anyone learning to play piano with a keyboard that does not have weighted keys.

Two my kids take piano lessons for the last 2 years, and I also learn to play piano with them. We started with Casio Privia PX135 (later we upgraded to a higher class Kawai). I bought it on sale from Costco (in Canada). I think that I paid $400 with the stand and a pedal, and that included delivery. This keyboard (actually it's called "digital piano") has weighted keys. Because my kids practise with "weighted keys", they have no problem playing real piano when they have a chance.

Last summer we spent a few weeks in a cottage, and I bought a portable keyboard (Alesis) so that we could practise. What a terrible experience playing that keyboard! I'm far from being a pianist. All I can tell you that I just don't understand how can anyone play these things with no weighted keys. With hammer-weighted keys (real piano or a "digital piano"), the key weight helps you to feel how hard you hit it. You can precisely feel if you play "piano" or "forte" or anything in between. After struggling with that Alesis for a few weeks in a cottage, I still could not make it sound the way I wanted. It has "Velocity sensitive keys", but that did not help me much without solid response of weighted keys.

Later I tried a few more expensive non-weighted keyboards, out of curiosity, but they all felt the same to me... not suited for playing music...

So for the cheapest keyboard I would recommend something like Casio Privia PX150 (the current model). I know, it's the cheapest one but still you probably will not find it for less than $400. It can be used with a stand or without one, so it's somewhat portable. It's a pity that I cannot find a more portable and inexpensive keyboard with weighted keys. Does anyone know about such keyboard?
Nicholas
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Post by Nicholas »

It's a tricky balance. All the weighted keyboards you just mentioned are part of the "digital piano" class that were probably missing all but a few piano, organ, and harpsichord-type sounds.

Without percussion or the other few hundred instruments, you lose out on a lot of the value Synthesia has to offer. (I suppose you could output to the computer/iPad's synth... but keyboard synths are really nice.)

The only weighted keyboards I know of that have a bunch of instruments too are more expensive than the entry-level digital pianos.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

While I agree you need a weighted keyboard with 88 keys if you get serious about piano, I think an unweighted keyboard with 61 keys is fine if you are just getting started or if you just want to play a bit of keyboard for fun. It is just a fact that a lot of people aren't ever going to get to a second year with piano. You can figure out whether or not you are going to stick with it on an inexpensive keyboard. I think the right time to get a weighted keyboard is when you start to feel you need a weighted keyboard and/or 88 keys. At that point you can try keyboards and decide if you like the feel and the sound. You can also decide if you need the full range of MIDI sounds which some digital pianos do have.

I think the revisions to the keyboard shopping tips are right on target.

You might qualify the warning about digital pianos with limited sounds to "if you like to play popular music with a virtual band". There is a definite fork in the road between those who are more concerned with a variety of sounds and those who are focusing on solo piano with the greatest possible realism of the piano sound. For the later group having only a dozen instruments is 11 too many. Perhaps you should add the Yamaha P-35 to the line-up.

I'll definitely take issue with the DGX-650 description of "as good as it gets". I think Yamaha would too as they point to the CP-1, not to mention their Silent Piano and Disklavier lines. I probably could agree to "as good as it gets for less than $1,000". I don't think you need to go beyond the DGX-650 though. I would hope that anyone getting into the weighted keyboard market would already know more that what you can present on the keyboard shopping page.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
serkol
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Post by serkol »

Yes, Casio PX-150 has only 18 instrument sounds: 5 grand pianos, 3 electric pianos, harpsichord, vibraphone, 2 strings, 4 organs, 2 basses.

Our Kawai has much more instruments, but we bought it not because of more sounds, but because of an excellent piano sound and more realistic piano keys and pedals. When kids learn a pop piece, they select a "modern" grand piano, "concert" or "classic" for classical music. Sometimes we select a harpsichord or an organ for baroque music that was written before there were pianos.

I agree with Jim that the keyboard list should include a cheap digital piano or two. How about adding Yamaha P-35 and Casio PX-150? I see them on amazon.com for $450 and $500.

I guess there is a sizeable portion of Synthesia users who are interested in learning to play PIANO, am I right? I feel that recommending them a non-weighted keyboard is like misleading them...
Nicholas
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Post by Nicholas »

jimhenry wrote:You might qualify the warning about digital pianos with limited sounds to "if you like to play popular music with a virtual band".
That's fair... though even basic functionality like Synthesia's metronome doesn't work well if you don't at least have Channel 10 percussion. The new style stuff in Free Play will also be an inaccessible feature to digital piano users. The idea of that list (and maybe this is the part I should emphasize on the page) is "Recommended keyboards [for use with Synthesia]". Everything on that list -- even the lowly PSR -- can take advantage of every feature Synthesia offers (outside of key lights which are rare and only the EZ-220 has).

Any digital piano class models drop metronome support, free-play style support, most of the background tracks in the music store songs, and who knows what else in the future, so I am more hesitant to recommend things that will lead to a bad experience in the software the person reading the guide is interested in. There are a thousand keyboard buying guides available all over the web. People are reading this one because they're interested in getting something that will "work" with Synthesia.
jimhenry wrote:I'll definitely take issue with the DGX-650 description of "as good as it gets".
This is also a legacy thing now (despite the page being two days old :lol: ).

The original first (EZ-220) entry said something along the lines of "the least you can spend before you have everything you need to enjoy Synthesia".

I wanted to get something symmetrical looking for the last entry along the lines of "this is the most you can spend before paying more won't improve your Synthesia experience any further" but I couldn't find something that read smoothly and simply, so I opted for the much(!) shorter "as good as it gets". Again, there is an implied "... for use with Synthesia" that I should probably make explicit.
serkol wrote:I agree with Jim that the keyboard list should include a cheap digital piano or two.
I'm already worried that 5 is too many. The point of the quick-answers list is to provide as clear an answer as possible for people that don't have the time / aren't willing to learn much about this stuff. It sounds like you spent a lot of time trying different models to find something that fits your family well. There are parents with a child that requested a keyboard so they can play that Synthesia thing they saw on YouTube. And the most effort that parent is willing to put in is to look up the Synthesia website, glance at the keyboard list, pick the one inside their budget, and order it.

Once you've got more than a half dozen things on the list, each with trade-offs and subtleties, this "quick list" isn't saving much effort over going to Amazon or Zzounds directly in the first place.

A couple days ago there were 2 recommendations on the keyboards page. By going up to 5, I'm starting to feel like I'm doing a disservice to people in a hurry.
serkol wrote:I feel that recommending them a non-weighted keyboard is like misleading them...
Just shooting from the hip, I'd guess there are probably 20x more Synthesia users out there with around $150 to spend on a keyboard than there are people willing to spend $400+. To put it in perspective, I've heard from users that have complained the $29 to unlock the Learning Pack is out of their budget.

Not including the lower-cost recommendations leaves the largest population without any guidance.
serkol
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Post by serkol »

Nicholas wrote:Not including the lower-cost recommendations leaves the largest population without any guidance.
I did not mean that you should remove the cheap non-weighted keyboards.

If I was responsible for the keyboard recommendation page, I would write there that if you want to learn to play real piano, you must get a keyboard or a digital piano with hammer weighted keys (a couple of links to digital pianos/keyboards with hammer weighted keys). If you don't care about playing real piano and you want to learn playing synths, then you can save a significant amount of money (list of cheap keyboards). Right now a person that looks at this page may think that he will learn to play a real piano using one of those non-weighted keyboards. This is what I meant by "misleading".
Nicholas wrote:To put it in perspective, I've heard from users that have complained the $29 to unlock the Learning Pack is out of their budget.
This has nothing to do with the amount of money that people will be willing to spend on "tangible goods" like a keyboard. It's a mental thing - people hate to pay for software. I make and sell an iPhone app. It costs $5. I'm getting tons of emails complaining about the price - from people who own iPhones, who paid for iPhone and pay a lot of money monthly for the cell plan.

Before I made this app, I had a website. My website had tens of thousands of subscribers while it was free, but when I introduced a small subscription price, only 30 people or so decided to pay it.

So, from my experience :-)
- if you are selling a software that the customer cannot even download (a server subscription), you earn 1 point (almost nobody will want to pay the price).
- if you are selling a downloadable software, you earn 3 points (more people willing to pay the price).
- if you are selling tangible goods (like keyboards), you earn 8 points (much more people willing to pay the price).
- if you are Google, you earn 10 points :-)
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:A couple days ago there were 2 recommendations on the keyboards page. By going up to 5, I'm starting to feel like I'm doing a disservice to people in a hurry.
Hmmm. Maybe you should confine yourself to recommending entry level keyboards, like the first two or three on your list. And I'm leaning toward two. Then conclude with a discussion of what the limitations of the entry level keyboards are and provide advice on when one should be looking for more than entry level keyboards.

My feeling is that anyone shopping for more than an entry level keyboard should either know how to shop for a keyboard or involve someone who does.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
kiwi
Synthesia Donor
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Post by kiwi »

Just for says that psre233 haven't touch sensibility but the 333 have it and it's good for a low price synth.

I think also weighted or non weighted keys aren't so important.
Nicholas
Posts: 12471

Post by Nicholas »

The PSR arrived and I had a surprisingly good experience with it. Thinking about touch-sensitive keys: there are a lot of users without them. Anybody using the iPad touch-screen or the (horrible) software keyboard on the desktop version. Because the default option in Synthesia is to use the note velocity from the song, the experience is largely unchanged whether you've got touch-sensitive keys or not. That will change when adaptive velocity makes it in, but today not having touch-sensitivity isn't nearly as big a deal as I expected it to be.

All of that discounts the importance of having it for the purposes of actually learning the instrument... but I would describe your first hour with a keyboard+Synthesia as being completely unaffected by the presence or absence of touch-sensitivity. Maybe even your first ten hours.

Anyway, it seems like a great little keyboard. At $85 it's still worlds better than the $120 Casio LK-110 that I also use for testing. Build quality is way better. Instruments sound like the same set that you get with the EZ-220. Running all my torture test MIDI files through it, it did an admirable job with everything (vs. the Casio playing less than 1/4 of the notes). I think with the current guidance ("for the tightest budgets"), it's a perfectly sound recommendation.

So even on their lowest end, I still haven't found any "Yamaha crap". :lol:
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:All of that discounts the importance of having it for the purposes of actually learning the instrument... but I would describe your first hour with a keyboard+Synthesia as being completely unaffected by the presence or absence of touch-sensitivity. Maybe even your first ten hours.
Maybe even your first year. I learned to play organ not piano. Organs never have touch sensitivity. I only got a touch-sensitive keyboard 2 years ago and a weighted keyboard a bit more than a year ago. I've played organ off and on for forty years before that (first year of organ forty times ;) ).

As a blues piano player in a band, I do tend to play in a pound the crap out of the keys style so touch-sensitivity probably isn't something I would be the best judge of. Nonetheless, I would say you can learn a lot without having touch sensitivity. If you have serious aspirations of becoming a concert pianist, starting on an unweighted keyboard without touch-sensitivity might well ruin you for life. If so, just become a concert organist. :lol: For everyone else, I don't think it will make that much difference.
Nicholas wrote:So even on their lowest end, I still haven't found any "Yamaha crap". :lol:
OK, fine. I haven't tried a low end Casio in a long time and I do have 3 Yamaha PSR keyboards for an unfinished project of making a lightweight portable 3 manual organ keyboard stack. I'll have to admit, I don't know how Yamaha delivers as much bang for the buck as they do.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
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